Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 13, 2011

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Elvis Costello discusses
live performances, Vegas memories


Doug Elfman

Elvis Costello answers six questions I've always wanted to ask.

1. Does he think the Escape Club's 1988 pop hit "Wild, Wild West" was an echo of his 1978 rock classic, "Pump It Up"?

"I've never heard that song," he said.

And he's never heard of the Escape Club, a band name that, he joked, "sounds like something you could get air miles on."

Without hearing "Wild, Wild West," he defended it.

"Somebody told me U2 did a song that kind of sounded like (Pump It Up)," he said. "I sort of heard what they were talking about. But it only sounded as much like 'Pump it Up' as 'Pump It Up' sounds like (Bob Dylan's) 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' — and as much as 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' sounds like 'Too Much Monkey Business' by Chuck Berry."

(That's a great point.)

"It's just a rock 'n' roll song. Once you start to string a lot of words together in a rhythm, you're gonna hear some similarities to something you've heard before."

2. At least once a month, I see a gaggle of pretty people in Vegas and my mind cynically conjures the title of Costello's song, "All This Useless Beauty." Does Costello himself have any prescient thoughts about the connection between "Useless Beauty" and life's beautiful tourists?

"Well," Costello comically dismissed my notion with a chuckle, "we won't go there."

3. Does he have any go-to songs by other artists that he listens to when he wants to cry, or to find his happy place?

No.

"I don't get back to songs looking for anything," he said.

But he does listen to old songs and rediscovers something in them that's exhilarating.

"You'll hear a record you haven't heard in a while, and it'll just strike you how thrilling it is. I heard 'Rip It Up' recently by Little Richard, and it's shocking how hip it sounds.

"You can say, 'Well, that's a long time ago.' But to me, it sounds groovier than anything."

4. When Costello performs live, how does he decide to slightly alter the arrangements of songs?

"Although we try to do them right, we invariably leave those (recorded) versions behind the minute we get onstage. We don't try to replicate them."

Even so, there's not a profound difference between the recorded songs and his live sets, he said.

"Sometimes, we've just found a more effective way to play the rhythm."

Other times, he simply doesn't have enough people onstage to re-create all the sounds found on an album. Or as he says in musician speak: "The instrumentation is slightly different in perhaps some of the augmenting parts you can achieve on the record.

"So we find another way to make the thing hold together. The changes are fairly subtle."

5. It seems apparent to me and fans that Costello aspires to be a crowd-pleaser, rather than an artist going through motions. Does he see himself as a crowd-pleaser?

Yes, he said, and there's an obvious distinction between musicians who change songs onstage "because they're bored" and musicians who are "looking for something different" in them.

Often onstage, he'll notice a deeper meaning in a musical line or lyric that he "buried" when he wrote it. That's exciting, he said.

"I suppose that's the point of singing at all," he said.

"Nobody could pretend that every performance of a song is as vivid as the next. But it will be surprising when a very old song becomes alive as you're singing it, and something in the moment makes it very vivid to you."

There is another element to consider, he said. The complexion of songs in concert depends on which outfit he's performing with, be it an orchestra, the Brodsky Quartet or the acoustic Sugarcanes.

Tonight at the Palms, he's back to performing with the Imposters. That likely means it will be more of a rock 'n' roll presentation. But then again, the Imposters have the stellar music-chops and "balance" to play "any character I'm feeling," he said.

"In one evening, you also want to make some sort of cohesive story, or an interesting story, out of the choices you make."

6. Does he have any fun Vegas memories?

Yes. His favorite was seeing Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings back to back on the same night in 1980 — at different hotels at different times of the night. If memory serves, he said, Nelson was at Caesars Palace and Jennings was at the Sands or the Frontier.

"Three or four of us came to see them play," he said.

And as usual, he didn't indulge in gambling or much else.

"I was just interested in the music. It may be heresy to say that."

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Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 13, 2011


Doug Elfman talks to EC ahead of his concert with The Imposters, Friday, May 13, 2011, Pearl Palms Concert Theater, Las Vegas, NV.


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